Lavont Flanders, ex-cop rapist, struck again after prosecutors let him free

Nicole Benson got her hair done, packed her best clothes, and jumped into her cousin's car. The 24-year-old beauty with a button nose and mocha skin had the January 2006 weekend off from her job as a Navy communications specialist in Jacksonville. She was on her way to Miami for her first modeling audition.

Benson and her cousin checked into a North Miami Beach hotel. At 9 p.m., a talent scout named Antone picked her up and drove her to a beach. He pulled out a video camera and asked her to strip down to a bikini. Then he handed her three shots out of a Bacardi bottle. All she had to do was drink the liquor and deliver her lines for a chance at a hefty modeling contract.

She woke up the next morning in the same car. As Antone dropped her off at the hotel, he told her she had fallen asleep during the audition. It would be more than a year before Benson learned the horrible truth: She had been drugged and raped on camera by two men who later sold the assault as part of a porn series called Miami's Nastiest Nymphos.

But the whole story, uncovered by New Times through records and interviews, is even more nauseating. "Antone," who was actually an ex-Miami Beach cop named Lavont Flanders Jr., should have been in jail long before assaulting Benson and at least seven other victims. Prosecutors flubbed at least two chances to put him away:

• A complaint 15 years ago by a fellow cop that Flanders had tried to solicit her 13-year-old daughter, which resulted in his firing from the Miami Beach Police Department — but no criminal charges were filed.

• A 2007 Broward County case involving at least five victims, including Benson, that stalled and was eventually dropped.

Instead of going to prison, Flanders continued drugging women so his partner could rape them on film. After a Broward judge let him and his accomplice, Emerson Callum, out on bond in 2009, the pair assaulted at least three other women until the feds finally arrested them last year and a jury convicted the two in December on 32 counts related to drugging and raping women.

"They had them, and then they let them out on the street to go back to raping women and selling their videos," says Benson, whose real name New Times agreed not to use because she is a victim of sexual assault. "Why did it take so long?"

Broward prosecutors say they did their best to convict Flanders and Callum and had no choice but to let them go. "I'm not sure anyone dropped the ball," Assistant State Attorney Dennis Siegel says. "People are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They are entitled to bond."

Despite the federal conviction, Flanders's attorney maintains his client's innocence. "These girls knew exactly what they were getting into," Christian Dunham says.

Lavont Flanders Jr. was barely out of his teens when he joined the Opa-locka police force, but he already looked like an officer, with a handsome smile and a cop mustache. A few years later, he applied to work in Miami Beach.

Soon after joining that department, Flanders struck up a friendship with Angela Raines, a records center employee. In an interview with New Times, Raines recalls Flanders saying he had connections in the modeling industry and could help her 13-year-old daughter break in.

On April 2, 1997, Flanders phoned Raines's daughter and asked if she wanted to hang out with his teenage stepsisters. Angela at first insisted on going along, but her daughter convinced her that she was fine.

Flanders drove the girl around Miami Beach in a black Mustang. Then his beeper went off. "It's Jerry of Image Modeling," he said, according to internal affairs records. He told the teen that Image was looking for a young black girl to model for an underwear ad and promised her $200 if she posed for seminude photos.

When the girl repeatedly refused, Flanders drove her home, but not before asking a favor of his passenger: Don't tell your mother about this.

Flanders's charm failed. The girl told her mom about his creepy offer, and five days later, Raines filed a complaint with her bosses. IA investigators sustained charges that Flanders had lied to them and of conduct unbecoming a police officer. He was fired in October 1997.

But prosecutors never filed criminal charges against Flanders, though soliciting a child could have landed him at least five years in prison and a place on the sex offenders list. Miami-Dade state attorney officials say their office had no record of investigating the cop. (Raines says she would have cooperated in a criminal case.)

For Flanders, the incident foreshadowed the modeling scam he would use to entrap women for another decade.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.

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